Viettel, the largest mobile operator in Vietnam, has outlined bold 5G ambitions which go much further than mere network deployments and high-speed services for its subscriber base.

The operator reportedly is working on its own core 5G technology, with the aim to develop 80 per cent of the tech at home by 2020. Local media say it has invested millions of dollars to develop 5G chips and devices.

While the military-run company, with a 40 per cent market share by subscribers, has a head-start on local competitors in 5G, it certainly lacks the expertise and scale to transfer its success in mobile services into component or equipment production.

In addition to Vietnam, its parent company runs mobile operations in Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, East Timor, Haiti, Peru, Burundi, Cameroon, Mozambique and Tanzania.

Viettel Group also operates a business solutions unit, established in October 2018 to implement ICT projects for the public and private sectors, and set up a cybersecurity subsidiary earlier this year.

Big investment
Marc Einstein, chief analyst at Japan-based research company ITR, told Mobile World Live that, realistically it would take billions of dollars to develop home-grown chips.

He said the group doesn’t have the R&D capabilities to develop everything end-to-end, so such an effort would need to involve some sort of joint venture or acquisition at some point.

“I am not aware of them filing patents, et cetera. It probably sees an opportunity in emerging markets which are on the fence about Chinese vendors, like India and others, as it wants cheap gear for its Asian, African and LATAM operations. But without that R&D backbone I am not sure how this would be possible,” he explained.

That being said, he recalls when Viettel first entered Vietnam it quickly became number one and then launched around the world: “they are known for being aggressive and a bit of a maverick, so it will be interesting to watch”.

Testing begins
Together with Ericsson, the operator recently demonstrated the first 5G connection in Vietnam. It received a trial licence in January to use the 3.8GHz and 28GHz bands for tests in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. It plans to install 70 5G base stations by end-June in the two cities and already invested about $40 million in 5G.

Rival MobiFone, also granted a licence for 5G network tests, selected Samsung as its equipment supplier, while Vinaphone, which is yet to receive a trial permit, reportedly entered into a partnership with Nokia.

None have turned to Chinese equipment vendors for 5G gear despite their growing global footprint and attractive prices.

It’s interesting Viettel was previously a big Huawei user, Einstein noted.

Perhaps because of operator’s cozy ties with the country’s ruling communist party, which keeps tight tabs on citizens and the media (as does China), Viettel has grown apprehensive about potential backdoors and other security issues with new 5G networks given Huawei’s alleged links with the Chinese government.

The editorial views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and will not necessarily reflect the views of the GSMA, its Members or Associate Members.